Copyright © 2017 Harold
All rights reserved,
including the right of re production, either in whole or in part, in
Smashwords Edition License Notes
This ebook is licensed for
your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given
away to other people. If you would like to share this book with
another person, please purchase an additional copy for each
recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or
it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to
Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy.
Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Stabbed repeatedly! Her body stuffed in a laundry cart and left in an
upper stairwell deep within Caesar’s Lake Tahoe Hotel. It has been
there for days. She was my cousin and she was dead! I will never know
the whole story.
Returning from a
weekend desert camping trip at the Colorado River, my wife I had just
come through our front door an early Sunday summer evening of
nineteen-ninety-one. We had been renting a house in Southern
California’s East San Diego County.
Our answering machine
light was continually flashing red; on and off; on and off.
I carried in an armload
of dirty, sweat-soaked, weekend laundry as I walked past the flashing
light. Automatically I hit the play button. By the time my mother’s
distraught voice came on, I was halfway down the back steps and
heading towards the laundry room, “Call me as soon as you get this.
Immediately I dropped
the soiled clothes to the ground and returned to the kitchen. I
snatched the phone and called my mother, “Hi. What’s going on?”
“Your cousin has
been murdered.” She went on to tell me the sketchy details her
brother had relayed to her about his daughter’s death. It was too
soon and he hadn’t known much. He was on his way south from
Vancouver, Canada to Reno, Nevada where her body was waiting.
I dropped dazed into my
overstuffed easy chair. I sat there for hours until well after dark
contemplating life. How fragile it is. How’s there no schedule for
life or death.
I thought back through
times when I had cheated death. In reality, it wasn’t so dramatic.
I hadn‘t cheated anything but only extremely lucky.
Life is scattered with
possible ending situations. Mine included drowning, bear mauling,
crushed by a dump truck, and more. It’s not that we consciously
fail to recognize these circumstances; we just don’t believe death
is ever that close.
After experiencing a
near-miss vehicle accident, we curse the faulty driver and simply
overlook the fact that it could have been our demise. Ongoing
scenarios include vehicle accidents, natural disasters, or running
into the wrong person; there are infinite possibilities.
Only a limited number
of these events are recognized and life continues with no more than
an annoyance, if any acknowledgement at all.
After replaying my
personal near-death experiences through my mind, I continued to
contemplate the good and bad times of my life, the mistakes,
successes, and all the characters I met along the way.
Years later, I finally
decided to put my stories on paper; the following reflect how I
progressed through my life…
Alberni, Canada - 1956 thru 1964
was a cold early spring day. I slid into a deep-water filled pit. My
feet could not touch bottom as the bulky winter clothes dragged me
down into the muddy liquid.
Thankfully, my brother
Thom reached in and found my toque. He quickly grabbed it and pulled
with all the might his tiny hands could muster until my cap released
from my head into his grip. Incredibly, he managed to drag me far
enough out of the hole to liberate me from certain death.
During the rescue, my
brother was lucky not to have slipped in beside me. The ordeal could
have easily ended in a double funeral.
I was a year younger
than four-year-old Thom was and he just saved my life.
The sheer-sided menace
dug for a septic tank. Winter set-in before the installation was
completed. The earthen walled death trap immediately filled with
water during the first wintery storm and remained so through later
The temperature was as
cold as a thawing freezer with continuous melting drips. Thom and I
were bundled in our winter coats, galoshes, with itchy woolen toques
covering our heads. We played unsupervised outside in the presumed
safety of our backyard.
Our family moved into a
half-duplex, five miles from Port Alberni, Canada located in the
heart of Vancouver Island the previous summer. This primitive
dwelling was absent of inside plumbing. The kitchen sink had an old
chipped cast iron hand pump mounted beside it. This contraption
delivered the only water into the dwelling from a board-covered
outside well. The empty septic basin should have been covered too.
wood-slatted outhouse, located in our backyard, was beyond a wide
ditch. This outbuilding’s only access was a rickety plank bridge
with split log handrails spanning the five-foot creek trench. My
perilous crater located just before the bridge crossing alongside the
back of the building where our unit adjoined the other.
A family lived unit
next door in the shared building. They had a girl, around age six and
her slightly younger brother.
On this near fatal day,
the older girl joined Thom and me in our backyard. The three of us
frolicked as free as escaped puppies, next to the ever-present septic
hole. A thin sheet of ice occasionally appeared and disappeared, day
to day, across its surface.
Throughout the winter,
Thom and I previously broke any at-hand ice with rocks or sticks.
Neither understood the dangers of playing around the pit, empty or
This particular morning
I lied on my stomach, stretched out one of my mitted hands to reach
down and break the thin ice covering the orifice. Without warning I
quickly slid on the water soaked muddy banks into the thick dark milk
chocolate colored liquid.
The girl ran abandoning
Thom and me. It was up to my brother whether I lived or died in the
As I lay free on a
small rain-soaked grass patch, my mother came galloping up with the
young neighbor girl on her heels. During the rescue, the childish
next-door-girl at least had the presence of mind to find my mother
and tell her I was in danger.
In reality, I don’t
believe the young girl understood the deadly situation Thom and I
were in and only ran to tattle on us for playing around the
This was my second life
terminating drowning experience in as many years.
a short stint living in the business district slums on First Avenue
my family moved to Fourteen Avenue.
Our mainly forested
five-acre property lay adjacent to the city’s limits. It featured a
small field beyond a year round creek beside our house. Flanking our
neighborhood, continuous dense bush, with all but impassible
underbrush, stretched for countless square miles. It was a man’s
Quickly Thom and I
indoctrinated into the ragtag gang of eighteen neighborhood boys
living in close proximity on Thirteenth Street and Fourteenth Avenue.
We called it Thirteenth Street despite the city labeling of Anderson
Our activities included
dawning baseball gloves for rock fights, forest expeditions, or
playing sports on our graveled neighborhood street. Our small bodies
constantly covered with bruises, scrapes and bleeding cuts. We were
a tough bunch of youthful kids.
One occasion I missed
snagging a rock in my glove and Wayne hit me in the mouth with a
piece of shale. I still have a lumpy souvenir in my upper lip.
fights sprung up. My proudest moment was when my brother beat up my
best friend Anton. Brothers always trumped friends.
Thom and I shared
fisticuffs often, mostly instigated from my mistaken prowess. I was a
slow learner and always ended up the loser. Hurt and crying I would
run to my Mother for salvation. Mother would stop my beating but
always knew I deserved it. She never offered me sympathy; no matter
how hard I tried falsely convincing her it wasn’t my fault.
I was one of the
smallest neighborhood boys. It was my self-imposed requirement to
prove I could be larger than life. One afternoon Larry was looking
for me. He was my age and in my fourth grade class through extremely
larger than I was. We encountered at the common meeting ground; a
wooden lot adjacent to Donnie’s back side-yard swing-set. I never
knew what Larry’s problem was or what initiated the altercation.
He approached and
immediately pushed me backwards. I didn’t fall but stepped forward
and pushed him back while sliding my right foot behind him; he went
down. He came up charging hard. I sidestepped and tripped him once
more. Again, he was instantly on his feet. This time unchecked anger
oozed over his dirt streaked crying face as he yet again charged. I
was terrified. I tried my side-step trick again. Unbelievably it
worked. To my relieve Larry with tears flowing like a bucketing
rainstorm, jumped to his feet and ran home. He was a later comer to
our gang and was now on the outs.
Larry moved to our
neighborhood a couple of months before and moved out shortly after
our fight. Thankfully, I never had to encounter him again.
One afternoon we
congregated at the ever-popular spot next to Donnie’s swings.
Jungle Jim was present wanted to exhibit his strength. This event
featured him performing sit-ups.
He was just shy of
three hundred with no signs of letting up. One of our mob made the
grave mistake of stopping him by grabbing Donnie’s nearby garden
hose and squirting water into his face. Jim immediately flew to his
feet and took off chasing the running kid. Besides his proven
strength, Jim was also a very fast runner. In short order, the poor
kid caught and pummeled. Jim didn’t think the stupid water trick
was as funny as the rest of us had, though not one of us uttered a
word or dare laugh, scared of being the next turn on the receiving
end of Jungle Jim’s punishing fists. We were eternally grateful
when Jim’s mother called him home for lunch.
Growing up with that
many boys in close proximity, the altercations never ceased. Any
received pain only lasted a few minutes, unless administered by
Jungle Jim’s iron anvils.
walking up our circular drive, I encountered a black bear standing
upright on his hind legs eating apples off one of our trees. The bear
looked enormous as he and I stood face-to-face no more than ten feet
apart. I was four years old.
We hadn’t owned a
television set so I missed seeing Disney’s Davy Crockett series. A
few of my neighborhood friends had and owned fake coonskin caps,
rubber Bowie knives and plastic long-rifle replicas purchased from
Woodward’s department store. All had Davy’s name prominently
embedded in the toys.
My friends and I
frequently re-enacted the scene where barehanded Davy fought a huge
ferocious teeth bearing, snarling black monster. We would take turns
being either Crockett or the bear. On the show Davy eventually ended
unscathed and killing the huge wild beast using only his Bowie knife.
His weapon hadn’t been the rubber version.
Young Davy Whalen did
not own a knife or have a coonskin cap but was just as invincible.
Upon facing my massive bulk of black fur, I reached down to the
gravel driveway and picked up a rock. I was not under the illusion I
was going to kill the bear but expected I could scare the intruder
scampering back into the forest.
I threw the rock as
hard as I possibility could. Not even remotely close to a major
league baseball pitcher, my rock inconceivably flew high and wide to
the right missing my mark.
It was a safer and more
trusting era. Port Alberni was a logging and paper mill town. Tall
trees and thick-forested mountains surrounded the area. The valley
air constantly hung with a pungent odor emitting from the oversized
pulp mill located along the canal on the border between Port Alberni
Alberni Valley was a
wet dreary place, built on foothills in the shadow of nearby
mountains and surrounded by wild animal infested thick bush. It was a
continuous wide hill containing various degrees of slopes and
bisected with numerous creeks and ravines. With the exceptions of a
few of winter snowstorms, it rained constantly from permanent gray
skies. The heavens dripped non-stop starting in October and ending in
late May and more than not the rest of the year.
Most of the outlaying
rural neighborhoods had gravel roads and ours was no different.
My parents bought an
old two-story house on five acres of land on the southeastern edge of
town set back from the adjacent neighborhood at the dead end corner
of Fourteenth Avenue and Scott Street. Tall Douglas fir hid our
property from view. The yard accessed only by the circular graveled
The house contained
three bedrooms and one bath plus an unfinished basement. The outer
wall’s wooden lapped white boarding was in need of a new paint job
and the house appeared more run-down than it was. It could have
easily doubled as a haunted house. All it needed was a secret room.
To enter the home you
climbed a wide wooden staircase hugging the outside front wall. It
led to the elevated covered porch and front door. The other entrance
was a ground level back door at the rear left corner leading into the
The house pad and
surrounding yard was located in the front corner of the property and
surrounded by five apple trees and a large cherry tree. In the summer
time, our field filled with overgrown grass and bracken ferns. Across
the pasture laid a decrepit old barn and a worsened conditioned
The rest of the
thick-forested land spread out past our property line for a hundred
or more uninhabited square miles eastward to the mountains. The wild
bush populated with cougar, bear, deer, and smaller wild creatures.
Unbeknownst to us children it was a dangerous playground.
Kindergarten was not
part of the required school curriculum and only offered privately. It
is akin to modern day preschools. My mother apparently thought I
needed as much schooling as possible and without a minute to lose.
She signed me up for our church sponsored kindergarten. None of my
neighborhood friends attended.
Our home was more than
a mile from the Church’s downtown location. We only owned an old
two-ton International pickup truck and my mother didn’t drive. My
mother escorted me to class. We walked two and a half blocks downhill
to the bus stop kitty-corner across the street from DeVoy’s small
corner market. It cost each of us a dime for our fares to ride the
public transit downtown. After disembarking the bus, we walked
downhill, another two blocks ending in the church’s basement class.
At the end of the two
hour morning session, I would meet my waiting Mother for a
three-block stroll to my father’s store in the heart of Port
Alberni’s small retail district. Father closed his Sherman Williams
Paint Store coupled with his backroom sign shop for the lunch hour
and drove us home.
After a couple of days,
my mother made sure I was appropriately clad, donning rain gear and
warm clothing. She would hand me a dime for the bus fare and it was
up to me, unescorted, to get to kindergarten and subsequently to my
Dad’s shop. It was an easy route and I relished my young
My routine lasted for
the few months I attended kindergarten. We were a poor family and
could not continue to afford the almost-free tuition. I possessed the
distinction of being a Kindergarten dropout.
A couple of weeks later
on an uncommon clear Fall day my father on his way to a rare lunch
time painting job and dropped me off from kindergarten in front of
DeVoy’s Market to walk the final leg home by myself. This day I
walked into my nearly fatal bear encounter.
After the immature
young, Davy missed hitting the bear with his rock our short stocky
black mongrel dog, appropriately named Stubby, charged to my rescue.
My fearlessly barking savior chased the bear off into the forest
while I scampered across the yard and up the front porch stairs to
It was only minutes
later when Dad came to a dust covered sliding halt in our driveway.
My father sat me down
on our chrome legged and yellow vinyl covered chairs surrounding our
kitchen table and explained to me a bear’s forest dexterity,
blazing speeds, unstoppable strengths and unwillingness to share
their territory with small lunch-sized children.
He ended explaining
that if I unfortunately hit the bear with my rock, it would not have
scared him off but infuriated him to the point of attack. My bear
could have easily jumped the short distance and landed on me. It
would have ended quickly and badly with me mulled to death beyond
recognition from one powerful swoop of his giant paw.
His lecture sent
shivers throughout my small body down to the core of my sole. I
experienced years of nightmares where I always ended up eaten by
large black bears. The common dream had me running around an old
steam powered locomotive on display across from the pulp mill. The
snarling creature on my heels, never failed to catch me. I
desperately needed stronger leg muscles.
This was the only one
of my Father’s countless lectures that I retained throughout my
life. If dad’s good-intentioned sermon hadn’t scared me to death
I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about my bear encounter.
by Dump Truck
old second hand bike and I, coupled as one, stared down the grim
reaper as we skimmed across the unforgiving asphalt.
The dump truck driver
slammed on his brakes squealing to a sudden stop. My forty-pound
frail body ended its slide across the dirty road wedged against the
truck’s large back dual tires. Apparently, seeing me, he managed
to bring the empty thirty-five-thousand pound death machine to a
standstill at the exact instant I was to be crushed. My short
five-year-old life should have ended that afternoon as a grease spot
on the pavement in the middle of Thirteenth Street.
I was out cold by the
time traumatized driver pulled me from under his heavy machine.
After coming to I pushed my bike back up Scott Street towards home.
The man on my heels.
As he talked with my
mother, my father came barreling into the driveway. Everyone was
extremely upset. After sorting things out, the distressed driver
went back to work and thankfully, I went back to my life.
Scott Street was a
short one-block moderately steep gravel road. The T-intersection
where Scott Street met Thirteenth was blind in both directions. The
top of the short street ended at our drive
Thirteenth an extremely
dangerous neighborhood thoroughfare was the main corridor for dump
trucks and garbage trucks hauling loads into and out of Port Alberni.
The trucks always hurried, constantly sped up and down the street
over the legal limit.
I don’t know whose
idea it was but Anton and I decided we could increase our bike thrill
by gaining speed on the Scott Street hill before turning onto the
busy avenue. It was all but impossible to stop on the loose-rocked
hill bottom thus the need to round the corner.
We took turns, one
standing at the bottom of the block signaling to the other straddling
my bike for the safe-to-go signal. It was a fool prove plan.
On my second, Anton
gave me the all clear sign. I took off snowballing my speed with
every pedal rotation, my hair blown back and jacket flapping like a
flag in a windstorm. As soon as I made the required turn I saw the
steel death trap. Terrified, I lost control and went down into my
I never knew if Anton
got his signals crossed or just missed seeing the ominous dump truck.
Either way I was exceptionally lucky to be alive.
We never played that
nearly fatal game again.
was late Saturday night. My parents were out at their square dancing
club. Thom and I had been sitting on the floor in front of our old
bulky black and white cabinet television set watching a horror movie.
In the mountain,
surrounded Alberni Valley TV reception sans cable was extremely
limited. Our tall antenna only received one channel. Cable
subscribers received unprecedented three or four channels. Our
broadcasting station started its weekly broadcast at four-thirty in
the afternoon and the Indian test pattern returned to the screen at
eleven-thirty at night ending the days viewing. Their weekend
transmissions started at nine AM and ended at one AM the following
The movie Thom and I
watched, staged in an old haunted mansion, was complete with secret
rooms and hallways. The ghost, really the previous owner, tried to
reclaim his property by hiding within the walls and peering out the
eyeholes from different paintings, rattling chains and generally
scaring the residents. Thom and I wished we had a secret room.
The upper floor bedroom
walls of our two story haunted house were constructed three feet in
from the steeped peaked roof. This left a triangle shaped space
behind the bulwark. Across the hallway, at the top of the narrow
staircase between the two bedrooms contained a large opened closet
area. The north wall shielded our soon-to-be realm. It was the
Thom and I scurried to
our basement and found my father’s circular electric Skill saw.
Immediately we lugged the limb-amputating device upstairs. After
cleaning out the overstuffed closet, we plugged in the saw and
started cutting our new door in the plywood partition.
We had never used a
power tool before and had no idea what we were doing. Thom pulled the
handle trigger and the tool’s blade jumped to life with a
high-pitched whine. The blurring high-speed blade had more torque
than we anticipated and almost jerked the power tool from his hands.
We were terrified but unnerved.
Kneeling Thom pressed
the trigger again; gripping the circular saw with both hands, he
pushed it into the wooded wall near the bottom edge. When the cutting
blade made contacted the saw jumped to the right. Still under full
power, he tried to slide it over back to the original position.
Having a mind of its own, the saw kept going to the left past his
designated starting point.
My brother let go of
the trigger and set the saw down. We looked over his first try. There
was a wide area of deep gashes all around where we wanted to cut. Not
one gash was straight. It was time to try again. This time Thom
managed to get the saw blade through the plywood. Success was within
our grasp. Thom continued the cut upward completing the first jagged
slot to the top of our door.
It was my turn. I
repeated my brother’s maneuver across the top of the door with the
same ragged results. We had the first two rough cuts. Thom finished
the final downward cut. Together we pulled the piece of plywood from
the top down, bending the bottom holding nails until our door fell
into the cleared closet. As messy and unsightly as it was we had our
gateway and amazingly all our limbs.
We peered through the
opening into the pitch-black abyss. A flashlight was in order.
Quickly we ran back to the basement and returned with light in hand.
Thom and I entered our new kingdom.
The floor was nothing
but exposed studs stuffed between with asbestos pads. A few
dust-laden planks were stacked along the interior wall. Soon the
leftover boards were spread-out laying a makeshift floor.
Thom and I were
sweating profusely. Even with the cold outside winter night air the
heat trapped within our small-enclosed area under the roof was
unbearable. After a few torturous minutes, we had to get out.
In too deep, we had no
choice but to finish what we had started and headed back to the
basement in search of a hammer and some very short nails. Following
our plan, we loosely nailed the door into place. Once it was set, it
would be a simple matter to pry open to enter and reset upon exiting.
After attaching our
straightforward door, we filled the closet back up hiding our hideous
carpentry. Neither Thom nor I ever returned to our hidden room.
My parents did not
noticed the mess we made on our first construction project, even when
the closet emptied for our move to California.
It truly was our secret
was a horrific torrential winter storm. The pounding sheets of water
escaping from the black low hung clouds were unrelenting.
As Anton and I emerged
from our third grade class, we saw my father waiting in his car. He
honked us over. As we are scrambling into the warm dry vehicle, he
immediately announced we were going to the caves.
Dad mysteriously found
out that a group of our gang had been frequenting a set of caverns
deep in the forest on the southern outskirts of Port Alberni. I
suspected my mother overheard us boys exaggerating our experiences
and passed off misinformation to my father. What he had not learned
was the fact; we only went to the caves during the summer months.
Our caves were manmade;
actually, they were abandoned mines. There were three of them located
along a barely negotiable canyon and scattered across a dangerous
swift running river.
To reach the mines we
squeezed through a hole cut at the bottom of a chain-linked fence
before negotiating an old abandoned train trestle. The bridge
spanned the sheer walled gorge and raging river more than one hundred
feet below. The ancient overpass was rotten and extremely treacherous
with many missing ties. Crossing forced us to crawl slowly along the
steel rusted rails. It was more than a miracle that not one boy ever
fell to his death.
To arrive at the first
mine, after crossing the threatening wooden monolith, we climbed and
slid down the steep canyon wall to the riverbank far below. From
there we hiked up the river’s edge before traversing the fast
running barrier by jumping from slippery rock to slippery rock
jutting through the cold violent current. Once on the other side we
again continued upriver before re-crossing to reach the first mine.
The other two mines were located further up river and respectively on
opposite sides. Every river crossing was dangerous.
On many occasions, the
water was too high and fast to attempt a crossing and prematurely
forced us to ditch our expeditions. Apparently, my mother selectively
overheard us bragging only of our successful missions.
The first and third
deeper mines were narrow unevenly dug tubes into the mountainside.
The cavities, supported by a few old decayed timbers, required the
taller kids to bend over or suffer cracked heads. There were a lot of
missing supports and the earthen ceilings could have caved in at any
moment burying our group of young explorers.
The mines were cold and
wet. The walls continuously seeped water leaving large deep puddles
spread beneath the mine tracks. We balanced along a single rail
occasionally slipping and filling our rubber galoshes with muddy iced
We could not venture
into either more than a few yards. It was blacker than the inside of
a sealed chest. We often talked of bringing flashlights though we
never had. Probably too afraid of what might be lurking in the
darkness. Not one of us was ever as brave as we portrayed. It was a
wonderful and dangerous play area.
When Anton and I
emerged from school that drenching afternoon and spotted my Father, I
became immediately ecstatic for a waterless cozy ride home. I
fruitlessly hoped this trend would continue and this day would be the
first of many! It was not to be; this was the only ride from school I
I wondered why he
picked such a horrific day for a field trip. It was obvious to me we
weren’t going to the mines. The lower canyon would be inaccessible.
In addition, if we could miraculously have reached the canyon bottom
the winter river would be too high and rough to cross. Besides there
was no way I was going to crawl across the wet, slippery trestle. I
visualized the wind and rain sweeping me to my death.
instructions, the three of us drove to the barrier fence. First, my
dad pointed out the large yellow and black bullet holed NO
TRESSPASSING sign wired to the chain-links and asked if we knew what
it meant. We feigned stupidity. It wasn’t hard.
Anton and I crawled in
the mud through the small opening while my dad, without choice,
climbed over. Three of us were soaked and cold. After making our way
to the trestle, we stood staring at the frightening bridge. In the
downpour the thrashing, currents below were almost invisible.
“Well, where’s the
caves?” my father bluntly asked.
I pointed to an
un-seeable spot up river and explained, “All we have to do is cross
the trestle, climb down the bank, cross the river a couple of times
and we’re there.”
My Father immediately
joined my team. There was utterly no way he was attempting the
unfeasible crossing either. He never saw the mines let alone stood on
the opposite side of the canyon.
Banned from ever
returning to the mines, I thought, “my playground isn’t shrinking
but left to expand into uncharted territory”, of which was
In the end, I dropped
off at home, was cold, muddy, and wet to the bone from head to toe.
My superficial warm and dry ride left to fantasy.
Jim, once again determined to demonstrate strength, this time by
hanging. He was extremely strong though not very bright.
None of the six
neighborhood gang members involved realized the severity of our crime
or the irreversible damage we could have caused him in less than a
minute by cutting off the blood flow in his carotid artery
notwithstanding his quick demise.
A group neighborhood
boys congregated in the sparsely tree filled vacant lot adjoining
Donnie’s house and kiddy-corner across Fourteenth Street from ours.
The oldest boy in our group was around nine years of age, with the
rest of us being a year or two younger.
Our old guy cuddling a
rope was practicing tying Hangman’s nooses. Western movies
dominated our fantasies.
Jim came along and
suggested we hang him. At first, we refused but after Jim’s
persistence, we stupidly obliged. One of us grabbed the rope with a
hangman’s noose adorning one end and placed the large knotted loop
around Jungle Jim’s neck. After throwing, the loose end of the rope
over a thick lower tree branch we all took position along the line
and struggled mightily trying to achieve lift. After many tries, the
jungle-boy feet swung freely.
Only seconds later, the
boy’s face turned scarlet. His eyes bulged. His throat making
My brother, Thom,
immediately yelled to release him.
Jim barely whispered
out a protest, “No. I’m good.”
Thankfully, we ignored
his objection and followed Thom’s advice dropping him back to
earth. Our lives certainly would have been different if we had
murdered Jungle Jim that day.
Wayne, Greg, Anton,
Thom, and I decided to turn our dilapidated shed across the small
pasture from our house, into a pigeon coup. While nailing patches to
the floor we found a handful of old blasting caps.
That evening my Dad lit
a huge bon fire and we threw in the caps, one at a time, resulting in
ear splitting explosions. After every cap exploded, the boys
proceeded to chase each other around the field with flaming sticks.
My father let us have some harmless fun in the clear star filled
My mother looked out
the window to check on us. From her field of vision, she concluded
the boys were getting dangerously out of hand. Her solution, rather
than breaking up our party, was to call me into the house. I hadn’t
understood her reasoning. I was the smallest kid at the bedlam and I
couldn’t even run fast enough to catch anyone.
It was late evening and
past my usual bedtime. To my astonishment, she didn’t send me to
upstairs but instead told me it was my piano practice time.
I sat playing boring
scales for a half hour. I counted my punishment minute by minute as
my time slowly dragged by. I had seen a prison movie on TV and it
occurred to me that I should be scratching a vertical mark in the
living room wall for every passing minute.
When my half hour
finally ended, I ran outside. The party had broken up and everyone
My warden’s plan was
brilliant; by removing the easiest mark and leaving no one to pick
on, it hadn’t taken long for the others to get bored and leave. My
mother continued this ruse on me more than once to curtail my
As pigeon curators, we
put up chicken wire over the window opening and we made a small
one-way steel-rod pigeon door in the shed’s wall beside the
entrance. The rickety front door just needed a few dozen nails added
to shore it up.
We all bought an
assortment of dollar birds and filled our coup.
I heard about a guy
selling tumblers for a couple of dollars apiece. My parents gave us
five dollars and Thom and I walked to his house in the lower part of
The first thing the guy
asked, “How much money do you have?”
I proudly blurted out,
“Five dollars.” Thom kicked me hard in the shins. I never could
figure out how he always hit the same spot; stacking bruise on top of
The seller told us the
birds were two-fifty each.
We ended up broke with
two pigeons. On the way home, Thom explained that we could have
gotten three birds for five dollars if I kept my big mouth shut and
left the negotiations to him. My brother had just taught me my first
lesson in economics; quantity discounts. It was a painful lesson.
In the post weeks, we
realized pigeons were tedious work that we were not prepared to
dedicate ourselves to. The other three boys living a block away left
all the feeding and cleaning to Thom and me.
I do not know if it was
planned but the pigeon door had been inadvertently left open and
eventually all our birds flew off.
My first paying job was
a paper route. I was too young to get a route of my own. Dan, a
neighbor boy, a couple of years older than me, acquired a large route
and generously offered me a section of it.
I tried to talk Thom
into helping me to no avail. My mother came to my rescue and forced
my brother to join me in the paper route business.
The Twin City Times, a
weekly free paper, had to be delivered to every house. Thom and I
usually delivered together. Every Wednesday afternoon we walked and
sometimes rode our bikes miles in the pouring rain. A couple of times
mother took pity on us and drove Thom and me along our route.
Each newspaper required
walking up steps to a covered porch and placing the paper under the
doormat to keep it dry. There was very little benefit to ride a bike
or get a car ride as neither cut down on the across the yard and the
Thom and I were paid a
penny a paper. Dan assigned us the outskirts of his route. Our
thirty-five houses were scattered over more than a mile from
beginning to end and then we had the get home.
During the winter
months the sun set well before five o’clock in the afternoon. After
school let out Thom and I started our route by three-thirty. With a
little more than an hour of daylight, we usually arrived home well
after dark and soaked to the bone.
We each made seventy
cents a month. On payday, we stopped at the closest corner market and
gorged ourselves with as much candy as we could afford.
Dan was considerably
more self-serving than bighearted.
We quit the paper
route after a couple of months when Thom gave me my second economy
lesson; labor verses reward.
Thom and I took up
bottle collecting. We would ride our bikes dangerously along the
treacherous highway and busy country roads collecting discarded soda
bottles. We each received a brand new three-speed bicycle for
Christmas. His was British racing green and my Italian racing red.
Only in our excited minds were we faster than the cars whizzing by
within inches of our fast pedaling bikes.
The two cents a bottle
redemption should have been far more lucrative at than our
paper-route. The problem was our collecting fields were miles from
where we lived. It took many times longer to ride back and forth than
collecting the profit makers.
After a few times the
fun vanished and it reduced to tedious mundane work. Our bottle
collecting business was a bust.
The only other work we
did as young boys in Port Alberni was paramount to slave labor for my
mother. She always instigated summer berry picking parties. After
hours under the hot summer sun amongst thorny flesh-tearing
blackberry patches, filling buckets of berries, we compensated with
an ice cream cone and a promise to go to the lake swimming.
The ice cream reward
was always delicious and devoured quickly. Moreover, I believe we
actually made it to the lake once.
had been snowing hard for two days. The frozen ground blanketed with
soft white ice crystals.
A gang of nine pre-teen
neighborhood boys immediately headed to the dump. The refuge lot was
located south on Anderson Avenue below a small steep curved hill just
out of town. The pavement ended at the top of the hill.
Alberni Valley is an
extremely rainy area dropping water faster than a commercial
irrigation sprinkler. The ground’s absorption ability was
constantly beyond its limits leaving running water ubiquitously
present. We only received a couple of snowfalls a year. Rarely was
there enough white frozen water to last more than a day on the
This was the first snow
of the year. Thankfully, it was deep enough for real fun.
Across the road from
the dump was the cable trail coming down the steep mountainside.
Previously a year earlier, a thick communications cable installed
across Vancouver Island. This eight foot wide plowed and elevated
access trail covered the buried cable. Our end of the trail contained
five large water runoff ridges evenly spaced across it down the
mountain. We knew the cable trail was specifically made for us.
The large vicious black
guard dog was nowhere in sight. We snuck into the dump.
All of us stole
through the dump many times to the trailhead of Little Copper
Mountain at back edge of the trash area. The scruffy, teeth bearing
watchdog always present, chained just beyond reach somewhere near the
front gate. He barked ferociously whenever anyone entered the dump
alerting the on-duty manager there was either a customer or intruder.
This day it seems the
dump supervisor, not expecting many visitors had kept the dog inside
the small warm plywood office.
We immediately headed
to the salvaged auto parts section and picked out a perfect discarded
old steel car hood to abscond. The hood was extremely heavy. Our gang
ringed its perimeter and proceeded to manhandled it as quietly as we
could out of the dump and across the road to the cable trail. We
rested many times as we sloshed along the short curved slushy road
and again at the bottom of the mountain. We took a long recuperating
respite before continuing the strenuous time-consuming task carrying
and dragging our stolen hood to the top of the mountain.
Once we neared the
crest, we positioned the hood upside down, pointing towards the
bottom, nose first on the snow. The hood’s pot-medal chromed
ornament previously scavenged left two holes where it stood.
Everyone piled on for
the thrilling ride. The hood didn’t move. Two of the largest boys
got off and gave it a mighty push. Our high anticipation faded
quickly as lid’s steel point dug deep into the snow. Everyone got
off. We repositioned our sled a little farther down the steep slope.
Everyone pushed on the
sides and back. The hood took off. Excited kids dove onto our
accelerating snow ship. There was nothing to grasp. Snow shot up the
sides as we blazed a path down the icy mountainside. Two steady
streams of small ice crystals pelted our faces like machine guns
through the missing adornment’s holes.
We hit the first ridge
hard and caught air. Before landing, two boys flew off into the trees
crowding both edges of the trail.
The hood kept
accelerating. The boys kept yelling. We shot over the next ridge. Two
or three more passengers lost to the bush.
The third ridge was
only a fast approaching blur. Snowy iced water poured from our eye
sockets leaving us barely a squint of vision. We knew beyond doubt we
were going into orbit as we propelled off the next ridge.
Not a single astronaut
had enough grip strength to squeeze the frozen slippery edge of our
sled. The final boys, I included, blasted into the forest. The empty
hood continued skating to the bottom.
Our rush was beyond
exhilarating. We raced to the bottom to retrieve our flying wedge and
to do it again.
We spent the rest of
the day dragging the weighty hood twice more to the top and shooting
down the slope. No kid ever completed the screaming ride.
On the third and last
flight, the hood veered off course. We hit the third ridge
disastrously sideways. Everyone was soaring in all directions. The
empty hood launched off the trail cracking through the underbrush
between trees. It ended buried in the thick growth. The recovery
mission would have taken days.
We abandoned our steel
ship and dragged our bruised and battered body’s home.
to the Ground
was alone deep in the forest. Jim spotted the bear through the thick
brush just in time, and scrambled up the closest tree.
The opened mouth
teeth-bearing monster started up after him. Jim fended it off by
beating the wild animal’s head with his wooden double-curved bow.
His bow cracked and ruined beyond repair. The black bear retreated to
ground and sat below him for more than two hours. Tasty treats are
worth waiting for.
After the wild creature
finally made his way back into the depths of the forest, Jim remained
on his perch for another hour just to ensure he was alone, before he
climbed off the tree and hurriedly snuck home.
He went into the forest
that morning to check on the small log cabin fort his brother and he
built with a couple of friends.
The evening before
Jim’s bear encounter, eight neighborhood boys played football on
the graveled rocky street. Dusk was ending within a half an hour and
by nine o’clock it would be pitch black.
Jim was the oldest of
our neighborhood team. Four teenagers from the lower section of town
came up the street. Though they were all a couple of years older, Jim
knew two of them. As the small group of hoods approached us, Jim
asked, “What’s up?”
just going to party in the forest,” they answered.
We were suspicious. Who
would go into the woods in the dark? I certainly wouldn’t.
When Jim got back to
our street the following afternoon he told us, “They burnt our fort
to the ground.” In addition, he informed us of his bear encounter.
Thom, Wayne, Greg,
Anton, and I were involved in building that log structure. We had
been pseudo cougar hunting and stumbled upon it by accident a couple
of months earlier while tromping through the bush with our tree
branch spears. Jim and his brother caught us as we were invading
They explained we
hadn’t been included in their clandestine cabin because we were too
young to keep it secret. Jim forced us to take a blood oath using his
extremely sharp hunting knife. In turn, each of us had to cut a
finger, draw blood, and swear to secrecy. However, been cut on many
occasions, it never hurt as much as this time. The anticipation was
more painful than the actual act. Our older friends reveled in our
Two months later, our
ritual turned out all-for-not. After the fire, we took Jim’s large
shorthaired Black lab, for bear protection, and went into the bush to
the fire site. We stood there inspecting the damaged fort; it was a
total loss. We sat around the charred burnt stinking spot
contemplating our next move. We decided to construct a new larger
citadel considerably further out in the rugged terrain.
Later that week Jim and
his brother chose the perfect site. We all took our hatchets and
followed them into the forest. We laid out the plot plan and started
cutting down the straightest Alder trees we could find. We stripped
the branches while chopping them to the correct lengths.
Each log notched top
and bottom on both ends. Then we stacked the logs locking with each
notched end to the log directly below it. When the walls were up, we
chinked between each length with moss to hold out the wind and cold.
All that remained was the roof and front porch.
too-many-to-count loads of boards into the bush for this part of the
Finally, we concluded a
sleeping shelf added to the inside back of the cabin would top it
off. More lumber hauled through the thick brush. The split-level
addition was just large enough for two boys to sleep comfortably on.
Upon final inspection,
we decide one more addition. It took all of us hours and hours, each
taking numerous turns dragging, pulling, and trying to carry the
extremely heavy cast iron stove through the forest.
We cut a stovepipe exit
hole though the truss above the flat roofed porch and installed the
stove and smoke stack. With this final installation, our log cabin
was complete. It was wonderful!
We spent many countless
days at our cabin, sitting around eating Miracle Whip sandwiches and
My parents never
allowed Thom or me to spend the night in our fort although Jim and
his brother had many times. I could hardly wait until I was old
enough to enjoy this privilege.
After Jim’s bear
incident, we all received bows and arrows for Christmas. Apparently,
my bear encounter had not been as critical as Jim’s was.
Our father taught Thom
and I bow safety. Rule number one, never, never shoot an arrow
straight up into the air. Of course, this was the first rule we
Groups of boys,
including Thom and me, stood in the middle of our pasture and shot
arrows straight into the sky. The idea being to make an arrow project
so high it became un-seeable. We all could accomplish the task quite
Obviously, each arrow
returned to earth at lightening speeds. It never occurred to us, or
we just had not cared a boy stepping a few feet from the group would
not fare well. An arrow through the top of your skull would instantly
Maximum fun has no
fifth grade teacher was a larger muscular man; at least six foot
three inches tall with thick curly black hair and broad Quasimodo
He had previously been
a forest ranger before becoming a grade school teacher. In British
Columbia, one forest rangers’ job was cursing timber. Rangers
forced to spend large amounts of time alone in the dense forest
inspected and marked trees for logging. Northwest Canadian coast
rangers were strong tough men. It was Mr. Brown’s mission to turn
his fifth grade boys into the same!
The ex-forest ranger
treated us well beyond our young age. One of the responsibilities he
bestowed upon us: we were old enough to develop our own cursive
writing style. My somewhat legible script quickly turned into
unreadable gibberish. This was a lifelong infliction. I could not
even decipher my own notes years later while attending college.
Another of his life
lessons involved taking responsibility for one’s actions. During
one recess late in the second half of the year, Mr. Brown was
assigned playground duty on the usually muddy field. Anton and I
thought it would be fun to pellet him with the eight-inch soft red
rubber playground balls. Most kids were constantly wet and dirty.
Neither Anton nor I could have realized how filthy his clean suit
would turn out. He did not appreciate the fun!
I got a little too
close. Before I could launch my throw, he was after me. I ran as fast
as I possibly could towards safety off the school grounds. I was no
match for his long strides. He caught me on the school’s border
embankment. Mr. Brown proceeded to throw me into the mud and kick me
with his hard wing-tipped Brogue shoes before throwing me off the
bank. Our fun had turned to my pain.
Anton and I walked back
to class after the recess bell rung. I was desperate to hurry to the
restroom and attempt a little cleaning and drying before returning to
class. When we arrived a few feet from the bottom of the short stairs
leading into the school Anton told me to go ahead while he waited
there. I did’t understand until I rounded the corner and Mr. Brown
jumped out to grab Anton. He was still standing firm in his spot on
His two older brothers,
Wayne and Greg, tortured Anton daily. He painfully learned all the
survival tricks. He should not have waved and laughed. Mr. Brown
stomped off and we returned to class.
Quickly Mr. Brown took
Anton to the office for his well-deserved paddling. Anton was an old
hand at receiving earned and unearned physical punishment at a
We sat through the last
two hours of class; wet, dirty and in pain. Astoundingly neither of
us learned the intended lesson.
Another of Mr. Brown’s
trainings was specifically for me. It was a punishment and not the
reward he described. The fifth and sixth grade classes were planning
a spring soccer match. The sixth grade team was short a man. My
teacher approached me, “I want to give you the honor of playing
with older class boys. It’ll afford you a great opportunity for
What was he talking
about; honor? I was one of the top two soccer players in my grade; if
not number one and he was demoting me to the low-man-position on the
sixth-grade totem pole.
On game day, I was the
sixth grade alternate and only played for a couple of minutes. The
fifth graders won the grudge match. I left being nothing more than
one of the losers. I thought his lesson intended to teach me humility
through discouragement because that was what I learned.
Mr. Brown only paddled
me once. Unpredictably it was not on his birthday when a group of us
thought it would be funny to push his VW bug into the mud on the
unfinished street next to the school. It was not my idea but I
helped. Mr. Brown wrongfully accused me of being the ringleader. He
stuck to reprimanding and publicly degrading me during class.
My turn at the wrong
end of his paddle arrived late one spring afternoon during art class.
I was chewing a piece of gum Ross gave me and the huge man caught me.
He instructed me to spit it out! I answered, “Ok,” but somehow
quickly forgot to discard the offending chew.
Mr. Brown, not that I
noticed, continued monitoring me. The second time he demanded I spit
out my gum I answered, “Yeh.”
Before I could even
stand from my desk and start to towards the steel trash bucket, he
screamed, “Get to the office!”
He nipped at my heels
as we arrived at the small room in unison. The teacher explained the
proper English term being, “Yes Sir!”
It was a petty semantic
mistake and figured the punishment was for a year’s worth of
indiscretion. It was his last opportunity to get even.
He forced me to lay
across the large oak desk. The giant gripped the paddle in his huge
hands as though it was a baseball bat. He swung for the fences.
Whack! The desk and I, melded as one, jumped six inches.
He continued swinging
until the desk smacked the wall and couldn’t move any further. My
pain was excruciating. Anton always returned to class laughing after
his punishments. I didn’t have it in me to follow his lead. I went
back to class fighting back tears and trying to look brave. I sure my
transparent demeanor fooled no one.
From that day forward,
I never overlooked the appropriate, “Yes sir!” Mr. Brown was a
Thankfully, the year
was almost over and I never got another turn to share his office. I
do not believe I could have lived through two episodes of the
Of course, I never told
my parents. There was no logical reason to be swat twice for the same
was a cold early spring morning. A giant wave sped up the Alberni
Canal at over two-hundred miles an hour. The ten-foot high wall of
muddy debris filled water destroyed everything in its path. This was
the second and largest of the tidal waves to come up the canal.
The first wave hit an
hour earlier just after mid-night on Good Friday in
nineteen-sixty-four. The mysterious grimy water continued to rise
covering the lower town beneath eight feet of unfathomable thick
The receding water was
stronger than a hundred Hoovers sucking mountains of debris down the
canal in preparation for the next larger barrage of destruction.
The frenzied local
radio station was unsure what was happening and broadcasted
unreliable-mixed signals. Confusion was everywhere and ignorant
townsfolk flocked to the area to witness the disaster.
Citizens were required
to abandon their flooded homes and vehicles. They struggled through
the deep mire desperately searching for higher ground. It was
miraculous no one drowned or died during the devastation.
In the end, six mighty
waves surged over the area during eighteen hours of chaos. These
monstrous waves were the consequences of a nine-point-two Alaskan
earthquake; the largest quake in US history and the second most
powerful recorded worldwide. It took four and a half hours for the
huge ocean swells to reach our southern British Columbian town.
Some cleanup assistance
tasked to my Boy Scout Troop. The Saturday, a week following the
tsunamis, they drove us around the
barricades into the war-like zone.
devastation was incomprehensible. We witnessed where boats and
automobiles had tossed around like toys in a child’s plastic wading
pool. Houses had floated blocks from their foundations. Dead fish
littered every scene. Huge logs separated from their booms along the
canal besieged streets and yards.
leaders handed us brooms, mops, and shovels. The mud was deeper than
our rudder galoshes could thwart as we trudged to our first assigned
house. We entered the dwelling and shoveled up buckets of dead fish
before tackling the mud.
our first house-cleaning attempt, we continued from structure to
structure. The wreckage intense and by the end of our laborious day,
not one home looked like anyone ever touched it.
scouting days started four years earlier as a newly recruited Cub
A circle of young boys
stood at attention as stiff as boards. It was the end of our Thursday
evening Cub Scout meeting. Paul was next to me. Our leader noticed
the incoherent swaying Cub and yelled, “Paul, get to attention!”
It was too late. Paul
toppled over unbending, nose first into the hardwood floor. The
scoutmaster ran to his aid. He flipped the boy over, Paul’s face
bloody and his nose still squirting the thick deep red liquid.
Our leader immediately
yelled, “Meeting’s over! Everyone get out!”
No one knew what
happened as we herded out the door and down the hall’s steps into
the chilly night air.
This evening Rocky’s
father turn came around to pick up our neighborhood group return them
home. I liked it when Rocky’s dad showed up. He always brought a
sweet treat for each of us. Tonight was bubble gum cigars. Mine was
We all stuffed and
chewed. On the short five-minute ride home, I managed to squeeze the
whole gum cigar into my mouth. There was so much gum I could not
close my small orifice and by the time I entered into our living room
my jaws were aching. My Mother immediately made me spit out the giant
yellow saliva filled rubbery wad.
I asked my father about
what had happened to Paul. He informed me it was nothing to worry
about, “Soldiers standing at attention often pass out.” He was
right. Paul was at school the following day, no worse for wear,
except for his swollen black and blue colored face and broken nose.
Scouting was fun and
good training for boys in the early sixties.
We earned merit badges
by completing various projects. In Cub Scouts, there were slightly
more than a dozen obtainable badges. We learned flag semaphore, Morse
code, first aid, knots, trees, and other practical never used skills.
mid-summer evenings stayed light until around nine PM. This afforded
us quite a few outdoor meetings. We played baseball or other sports
and games in the park across the street from the Scout Hall or hiked
along the Alberni Canal complete with ghost stories and other evening
adventures. All always shared a good time.